When you’re at war, it’s perfectly understandable that you’ll mourn your own losses, both military and civilian, you’ll rejoice in the losses of the enemy’s combatants, and you’ll pretty much ignore his ‘collateral’ losses, which before and since have been a hundred-fold the under-3000 Americans killed on 9/11. But for all that, there’s something called seemliness, is there not? And all this bleating about 9/11 – all day Saturday and for several days leading up to it – was nothing if not unseemly. Not a word about what might have provoked the attack, let alone justified it. Not a word of empathy for the unintended but anticipated consequences of the retaliatory bombing of Afghani villagers, Afghani villagers who knew as much about 9/11 as Vietnamese villagers knew about communism.

With any luck, the thirtieth anniversary, a decade hence, won’t be quite as unseemly. And the fortieth perhaps not unseemly at all. This is because time heals all wounds. 

But what kind of wound was it, really? More people died on American highways the weekend before that Tuesday, and every weekend since. More people are dying every day from Covid. So I guess if the enemy is either inadequate guardrails or a virus, we’re left to mourn the loss of our loved ones privately, whereas if the enemy is other people, we need a more public display of high dudgeon.

Is there a public display of high dudgeon that’s not unseemly? I’m thinking not. The world saw the Holocaust coming. Likewise the Holodomor, Armenia, Rwanda, Bosnia … To  park on the tracks and then feign surprise when you’re T-boned is worse than unseemly. It lacks dignity. By all means lick your wounds, but beyond that you should self-flagellate, not shake your fist at your comeuppance.

Most victims of these atrocities – of the Holocaust, of Rwanda, of the Bosnian genocide – had few if any means of escape. But survivors seldom accuse the Nazis or the Hutu or the Serbs, any more than they accuse the tiger that sneaks into the village and mauls a child. That’s because most people know that nature red in tooth and claw makes no exceptions for human beings. Rather, if anyone, they accuse you, for seeing what was coming and doing nothing to stop it.

Was American policy in the Middle East the sine qua non of 9/11? Of course it was. Some people worry that the Taliban 2.0 is going to harbour another bin Laden. Perhaps. But only if America creates another bin Laden, which I have every confidence it will.

Categories: Editorials, Social and Political Philosophy

Tags: , , , , , , , , , , ,

1 reply

  1. “The fact is that anger makes us confident — that anger is excited by our knowledge [sic]* that we are not the wrongers but the wronged, and that the divine power is always supposed to be on the side of the wronged.”

    Aristotle. Rhetoric. Trans. W. Rhys Roberts. Dover Publications, 2004. p 72

    *Most analytic philosophers take knowledge to be a justified (or warranted) true belief. “I’ve been wronged” requires a how-so, a justification one doesn’t dare examine in most circumstances lest she lose the potent rhetorical effect of her words.

    And who adjudicates if both sides claim to be wronged (each backed by God — or the good)?

    “Time heals all wounds,” says Viminitz. But not those where the scabs are continually picked and often salted with a treatment-resistant infectious agent to ensure their persistence, e.g. fear amplified by hyper-partisan news. One ought always feel the enemy’s breath on her neck, be in a persistent state of hypervigilance. But that breath needs a breath-er to be credible lest one becomes inured to her surroundings, hence a body in which we “insert [bin Laden] here”.

    By ‘picked’ wounds, I mean two senses: 1) cherry picked for political use/justification of policy including war, and 2) prevented from healing in order to service the motivation for political action. (A scar from a healed wound can be useful provided it’s made visible and salient to the public eye, e.g. memorials, museum displays, school texts. But an opened scar is a new wound, and its original force is usually watered down and so too its rhetorical effect. The schism between the MacDonalds the Campbells might still fuel the odd bar-fight, but is quaint trivia on the political landscape.)


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: